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16 August, 2005

A blow to sovereignty

Cannabis is all-but-legal in Canada.  In the USA, dealing carries a minimum sentence of 10 years, even life.
The Guardian reports the case of a Canadian man openly selling marijuana seeds by mail order from Vancouver, untroubled by the police for years yet suddenly arrested this summer – on the orders of the US DEA.  Because he sells to US citizens, the USA is demanding his extradition, for trial under US law and to serve a long prison sentence for an activity tolerated in Canada.

This is appalling. Canada is a sovereign nation, and a Canadian citizen doesn't have to even acknowledge US laws, never mind obey them. The US authorities don't like a Canadian dealer? Tough. The US authorities weren't asked, and indeed aren't 'authorities' beyond the US border. By all means stop the goods once they enter the USA, but until they cross, they're untouchable, as is the sender (before and after).

Needless to say, this isn't remotely about drugs. It's a simple issue of one nation (any nation) attempting to impose its will abroad, illegitimately.

The scary thing is that if the USA tried it in the UK, Blair would probably be happy to comply.


Sorry, Neil, but you're wrong on this one. By selling into the US, Mr. Emery violated US criminal law. Canada and the US have an extradition treaty, which means that Canada must, at the US' request, transport someone who violates US criminal law to the US to face trial for that violation. The only exception to this is when the US might apply the death penalty; in such a case, I believe we can try the offender here. Had Mr. Emery not sold his seeds into the US, there would have been no grounds for his arrest in Canada.

Trust me, though, the extradition hearings will be a circus. Good thing we have the right courtroom for the job.

Posted by Jon. at August 17, 2005 12:17 AM

Okay; fourteen hours after writing that entry, I have to agree I misunderstood/misrepresented the nature of the extradition treaty, but in a way this is far worse.
Oversimplifying, the US authorities want to prosecute someone beyond their jurisdiction for a 'crime' tolerated in Canada. If it was a case of murder, that'd be different, as murder is obviously illegal in both countries, but I don't think it's reasonable for the police of one country to enforce, or contribute to the enforcement of, laws which don't apply in their own country.
What if it was illegal in, say, New Zealand to publicly criticise the government? Would it be reasonable for the NZ to be able to arrest dissidents anywhere in the world for such thought-crimes? That's wildly over-dramatic, but doesn't that potential exist?

Hypothetically, if I ran a business selling alcohol via mail order, so long as I paid all UK taxes on it, I see no logical reason why I shouldn't sell to a 19-year-old US citizen. Selling to anyone over 18 is entirely legal in the UK; why should I care whether it's illegal in the USA? I'm not a US citizen, and wouldn't be operating from the USA. The US authorities would be entirely within their rights to stop a shipment at their border, but that'd be a matter between Customs and the customer.

You're right, though I suspect that in that hypothetical case, the UK police would arrest me on behalf of the
US authorities. I just don't think extradition treaties should work like that! Extradition should only apply if an act is illegal/enforceable in both countries.

Posted by NRT at August 17, 2005 08:37 AM

Well, selling marijuana is illegal in Canada.

It may well be that it is not possible to extradite someone from Canada if the activity is not an offence in Canada, but selling marijuana, whether in seed form or otherwise, is still a criminal offence in Canada.

This probably puts the Canadian authorities in a position where, in order to comply with treaty obligations, they must extradite even if they would not have (and have not) prosecuted Emery in Canada.

Posted by Jon. at August 17, 2005 05:15 PM

"Well, selling marijuana is illegal in Canada."

I did say 'all-but-legal', not 'legal'. ;)

I'm sure you're right, and the Canadian government is in an awkward position; I'm just ranting about how things would be if I was in charge. ;)

More seriously, I do think there's a case for re-examining the treaties, and perhaps the legality of cannabis.

If Emery is to be tried for a crime, it should be in Canada, for the offence against Canadian law. If Canada doesn't wish to charge him, he should be freed. The US aspect of all this shouldn't be relevant (okay, it is, but I don't think it should be).

Posted by NRT at August 17, 2005 05:54 PM

Fair enough. We are having a debate over the legality of cannabis here in Canada, and it looks like it will be decriminalized. It will still be an offence, but will be akin to a speeding ticket. This may take some time, but I believe our current government has committed to making these changes.

I don't know how that would affect an extradition treaty.

Posted by Jon. at August 17, 2005 07:53 PM
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